Soon after I decided to ask to make my perpetual vows and was approved to do so, I became a bit obsessed with fire.
It’s not a dangerous obsession or anything, it’s more that I am paying attention to all the ways that fire images and metaphors are incorporated into our culture and faith. I quickly became fascinated by what I was noticing and how often I heard popular song lyrics and ordinary conversation casually incorporate words like “fire,” “burn,” “spark” or “enflame.”
It got me thinking about all the different ways we use the idea of fire – like in St. Francis of Assisi’s Canticle of Creation, where he offers praises to God for “Brother Fire,” for being so bright and lively. I saw a print once that showed…
Being Christian is not for sissies, I have heard some say. We must be bold, courageous and purposely enter into experiences of encounter that might make the average person squirm.
For starters, this is a life of serious love. And for us Christians, love is a verb, not a feeling. We have to love our enemies, not just our friends, even when it might not feel good or make sense. This love is done through countercultural actions: we have to forgive, stand up for justice, help the poor and marginalized.
All this love-in-action activity totally changes us for the better. Conversion gets the best of us. Our minds, hearts and behaviors change. For doing this love-work means we must hang out with prisoners, the people who scare us, the smelly— and we might become poor, scary, imprisoned and smelly ourselves in the process.
This being a Christian-thing: it’s messy, it’s complicated and totally challenging.
God really is demanding; God does ask a lot. We must give over our whole life and become totally transformed, and unite with God in our hearts, minds and spirits. For sure, this discipleship is an all-or-nothing thing. No pretending, going through motions, or half-assing any sort of faith-life; at least not if we want to really please God and build God’s reign of peace and justice.
Yes, like the verse in Revelation says, we must not be lukewarm with our faith.
I know your works; I know that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either cold or hot.
So, because you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.
When we’re real with ourselves, though, we might be able to admit that we don’t always feel on fire for the Gospel and the love of Jesus. Sometimes we are just not in the mood to go to great lengths to care for others. And, other times we are full of doubts, confusion. We are hurting, exhausted and just plain weary.
So, if we’re feeling lukewarm and we don’t want God to spit us out, then what are we to do?
It’s important to understand the original context of the passage; it was written to encourage persecuted Christians to remain faithful and hopeful during the Roman Empire. Many Christians were hiding their faith or trying to participate in both the state religion as well as their Christian communities, in the same way that today some of us still participate in the sins of the common culture while still going to Church saying we’re a Christian. This is the type of lukewarm faith that doesn’t care, that is comfortable and not interested in growth or feeling passion for God and others.
But, what if we are lukewarm because we’re struggling? What can we do if we don’t feel hot for God like we want?
Here’s how to be hot for God:
Surround yourself with strong, faithful Christians who you can lean on for support. Recently one of my young nun friends posted a meme that totally summed this up for me. There was a picture of a bunch of ladies in wacky clothes and a statement: “surround yourself with people on the same mission as you.”
Study scripture and pray a lot. Ask God for a strong faith, for strength and keep in mind that faith is a gift, but faithfulness is required in all relationships. And, a life of faith is a life in relationship.
Do frequent acts of service because a great way to get to know God is by getting close to poverty.
Receive the sacraments and allow the graces of God to transform you from the inside out.
Listen and stay open to God’s beauty and love surrounding you all the time, whether it is nature, in art, your own acts of creativity or in the people you love.
Ask others to pray for you such as my community. By the way, we have a perpetual adoration chapel and are praying 24/7 and we love praying for all of you and all your requests! You can submit your prayer requests here.
Indeed, let us pray for each other, that all of us can burn brightly with our love for God! Amen!
As part of a larger discussion in my classroom yesterday, I asked my students how they define justice. Then, I asked them how they could better demonstrate justice.
The results were fascinating to me. Some students very quickly said justice means “fairness.” More students, however, said things like “being nice,” “treating people equally,” and “enforcing the laws.”
The context of the conversation was an examination of the following passage of scripture, a passage that shows the real meaning of justice. We are to change our hearts and ways to imitate God who is compassionate and fair: God who doesn’t necessarily treat everyone equally–but fairly–by giving special attention to those who are most vulnerable in society.
Now, therefore, Israel, what does the LORD, your God, ask of you but to fear the LORD, your God, to follow in all his ways, to love and serve the LORD, your God, with your whole heart and with your whole being,
To keep the commandments and statutes of the LORD that I am commanding you todayfor your own well-being?
Look, the heavens, even the highest heavens, belong to the LORD, your God, as well as the earth and everything on it.
Yet only on your ancestors did the LORD set his heart to love them. He chose you, their descendants, from all the peoples, as it is today.
Circumcise therefore the foreskins of your hearts, and be stiff-necked no longer.
For the LORD, your God, is the God of gods, the Lord of lords, the greatGod, mighty and awesome, who has no favorites, accepts no bribes,
who executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and loves the resident alien, giving them food and clothing.
So you too should love the resident alien, for that is what you were in the land of Egypt.
The LORD, your God, shall you fear, and him shall you serve; to him hold fast and by his name shall you swear.
The way we are called to love and serve God is by loving and serving the most vulnerable in our society. For my students and me, that is people who are different than us.
My students are studying the Old Testament and they are 9th graders. Most of them are white and privileged, and enjoy lives of safety and comfort.
Justice may have been difficult for many of my students to define because they don’t have to think about it very often. Most of them are able to go through their days without having to worry about whether they will be stopped by the police when they walk down the sidewalk. They do not worry about being wrongly harassed by police. They don’t have to fear coming home to find that their parents have been deported.
Like my students, I also enjoy being able to trust that the police will protect me and keep me and my dearest loved ones safe. I don’t fear racial discrimination, brutality, or false accusations for crimes.
It’s Thanksgiving week, and we have much to be grateful for. We also have a lot to do.
It is a time of tension in this nation. The protests and violence concerning the case of Michael Brown and Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri, and the debate about immigration reform show that a lot of intense emotion is stirring all over the land. (By the way, I am a supporter of President Obama’s recent executive action on immigration reform, along with the Catholic Bishops).
During this time of chaos and conflict, what type of justice do we need to demonstrate?
The Scripture and our tradition make it clear. As people of faith, we are called to protect the most vulnerable. We must enter into intense social analysis in order to see what’s really going on in the systemic problems that cry out for the need for changes: we need immigration reform and less militarization in our police forces. We need more compassion.
We must rally non-violently. We must hold prayer vigils. We must offer loving presence to the hurting, the suffering, the vulnerable and oppressed. We must listen to their voices and not be quick to judge.
We must engage in simple acts of generosity and kindness, like God, and lovingly give the vulnerable food and clothing.
This is the real spirit of Thanksgiving: attitudes of gratitude that become actions for justice and kindness, recognizing we are blessed and making social changes so more people can experience the blessings. The type of Thanksgiving that our nation needs now is a celebration of generosity and compassion that honors the real meaning of justice.
We don’t have to go deep into the headlines to know that death and despair surround us. Our human family is suffering intensely. We all are.
When I really let myself feel it, I squirm. Awareness of injustice gnaws at my edges, compelling me to feel uncomfortable with the peace and security that I enjoy daily. The thickness of sorrow stews in my praying heart. Intercessory prayers begging the madness to end pour out of me; these prayers seem to be stuck on repeat.
Then, a message from an ancient prophet quiets me:
On this mountain he will destroy the veil that veils all peoples, the web that is woven over all nations; he will destroy death forever. The Lord GOD will wipe away the tears from every face; the reproach of his people he will remove from the whole earth; for the LORD has spoken. On that day it will be said: “Behold our God, to whom we looked to save us! This is the LORD for whom we looked; let us rejoice and be glad that he has saved us!” –Isaiah 25: 7-9
There is hope for all nations! I know this is real. God’s power is stronger than death. The Truth of Easter teaches me this.
The beauty of God’s designs in nature also remind me that we can be people of hope. The colors of the falling leaves insist that even when death and decay has its way, there’s reason to rejoice. There are many beautiful signs of God’s loving presence in the decay, in the changes and pain.
Indeed, signs of hope surround us. God’s love is known, even in the most awful, painful situations impacting our global family:
Yesterday I met one of my heroes. Father Louis Vitale is a model peacemaker and Franciscan. He received an honorary doctorate in ministry from Catholic Theological Union in Chicago. Fr. Louis’ accomplishments include many actions of non-violent advocacy, education, and much contemplation about the goodness of God. He has spent two years in jail for actions of non-violent peacemaking plus he helped found Pace e Bene and the Nevada Desert Experience. Now he is a parish priest in San Francisco.
At the graduation, I was so excited to hear Fr. Louis speak and I had brought my journal and pen in order to take fervent notes. His acceptance speech was not anything highly academic nor formal though; instead he guided us all in a meditation and celebration of the goodness of God. He ended his speech by blowing kisses at the crowd and saying “I love you!” In the end, with a big smile I wrote a simple note: “Always celebrate the goodness of God!”
Earlier this week, Fr. Louis was on the news explaining what freedom means to him. His statement was part of a story about the awesome social action that my Catholic Worker friends engaged in on Monday at which they bravely proclaimed “NATO Feeds War! Community Feeds People!” Through bread-breaking, song, prayers, signs, statements, leaflets and presence my friends and fellow Christians asked the leaders of NATO to join them in the works of mercy and stop the works of war.
Fr. Louis’ statement about freedom has been rattling in mind since I saw it a few days ago. Then there was something about Fr. Louis’ pure joy and love for Christ and humanity that overflowed at the graduation last night that reminded me of other holy Christians, but from a long time ago. Certainly, St. Francis would probably be grateful for his courage and witness. But, I was thinking more about Saints Peter and Paul.
I have been teaching the book of Acts and the life of the early Christian church to my students this week. As I re-read Acts (and hear it proclaimed at mass during this Easter season) I keep feeling excited and amazed. And, I am challenged.
Do I have the same faith and courage in Jesus that the early Christians did? Am I willing to lovingly, non-violently proclaim the Gospel in public places, even if it’s really risky? Am I healer, a preacher and a teacher in a way that invites more people to the Christian community? What would my faith be like if people were plotting to kill me for it and the Christian community was also not accepting me?
All who heard him were astounded and said, “Is not this the man who in Jerusalem ravaged those who call upon this name, and came here expressly to take them back in chains to the chief priests?” But Saul grew all the stronger and confounded [the] Jews who lived in Damascus, proving that this is the Messiah. After a long time had passed, the Jews conspired to kill him, but their plot became known to Saul. Now they were keeping watch on the gates day and night so as to kill him, but his disciples took him one night and let him down through an opening in the wall, lowering him in a basket. When he arrived in Jerusalem he tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he was a disciple. –Acts 9: 21-26
I am not sure how brave I really am. I’d like to think that I am willing to share the Gospel no matter what, but I haven’t really ever been persecuted for my faith.
But, I do know that I am inspired and grateful. I am inspired by those, like Fr. Louis and my Catholic Worker friends, who non-violently, publicly testify that the non-violent, good God and Jesus is more powerful than any other force. I am so thankful for holy men and women throughout history who boldly said yes to God and Love no matter what the cost!
This weekend, as NATO convenes in Chicago and the fear, tension and excitement escalate, I pray that all people of all faiths can experience the real peace of Christ and be able to celebrate the goodness of God. Then, we really will graduate to The Way of peace and justice. Yes, let us pray, let us love and let us proclaim the Truth no matter the cost. Amen!
I was happy to see William pull up next to me on his bike. Last I heard he had been stabbed in a fight and I did not know the extent of his injuries. Surprised at the opportunity, I ask him how he was doing. He seems embarrassed about his injuries and the fact he was fighting; he says he was fine but really blows the question off.
I have known William for three years and I have seen him on and off “the wagon” twice as many times. I know he is an alcoholic. I know he finds himself in a lot of fights. I changed the bandages on his gunshot wound a few years ago. We have a good rapport and I feel comfortable teasing him and challenging him.
So I continue to push a bit. I ask about the fights, work, housing and his alcohol addiction. He is not really in the mood to chat so I continue on my walk to work and he starts to peddle away. But then he stops me.
“What is the beginning of 1st John all about?” he asks.
Confused and surprised, I respond, “What William?”
“I was reading my Bible last night, and I was reading John and it did not make sense. I could not sleep because it did not make sense,” he responded quickly.
“William, are you talking about the Book or the Gospel?” I ask, secretly hoping he is asking about the Gospel.
“The Gospel. What is all this talk about the Word, and God, and light about?”
So I sit down. He sets his bike down and sits with me. I pull my Bible out of my bag. And together on the corner of 12th Ave. and Jefferson we have a Bible study. In the part of town where drug dealers, prostitution, homeless shelters, and soup kitchens exist. In the part of town people try to avoid. Here we are sitting on the corner having an impromptu Bible study.
In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God.
He was in the beginning with God.
All things came to be through him,
and without him nothing came to be.
What came to be through him was life,
and this light was the light of the human race;
The light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness has not overcome it. –John 1:1-5
We talk through each verse. We take each line and individually look at its meaning. We discuss the passage as a whole.
It’s simple. We do not use the word exegesis or talk about homoiousios vs. homoousios. It’s beautiful. Two people are caught in a moment; two people are finding God; two people are drawn together by grace.
“So really, it’s all about Jesus. Jesus and God. And Jesus saved us. And Jesus is still the Light. That’s it?”
“Then Peter said to Jesus in reply, ‘Rabbi, it is good that we are here! Let us make three tents: one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah’” (Mark 9:5).
When I went hiking with a group of junior high students, we were going up a pretty steep mountain and we were having a hard time finding a place to camp. Finally we came upon an old railroad grade. It was the only flat land we had found. So we tied up our tarps and settled in to sleep. In the middle of the night, it started pouring rain. The rain came right down the side of the mountain, across our flat railroad grade like a river, and straight down the mountain again. We spent together a long sleepless night, fortunately, with a lot of laughter and good humor.
I get Peter.
Can we just stop for a moment and pitch a tent?
In this crazy 4G-speed world can we rest and stay and be?
I’ve been tired lately, Bone tired, Take-a-nap-on-my-lunch-break-cause-I-cannot-keep-my-eyes-open tired. My friends and parishioners have noticed my tiredness and told me to take it easy. So right now I am in the middle of a five day retreat. I am finding restoration. And I am reflecting on being tired.
I think a lot of us are tired: from justice work and daily work, school and jobs and family. The speed is relentless and the expectations are never-ending. I remember making a list of Holiday stressors and writing down, “existence.” Sometimes, just this living wears us out.
Show me the things
That lumber up my heart,
So that it cannot be filled
With your life and power.
What lumbers up my heart?
Lord, show me the logs of attachment and self-criticism, of pettiness and envy, of over-analysis and just pure flight that keep me from filling with your love. Help me, my Jesus, to rely on you. To rest in you. To be wholly in you. Help me to find a little more interior space to be who I am just as you made me, and to be okay with that. I cannot do it without you. I cannot do anything without you.
Peter came down from the mountain. He asked to put up a tent, but he followed Jesus back into the daily healing work of the world. Eventually, he picked up his own cross. I think maybe it is okay to be tired for a while. It is okay to rest. And also I know that the greatest rest will not come to me on my own. Jesus is my rest.
I have always loved Valentine’s Day. We don’t tell people we love them often enough and it’s our Christian message and way. I love celebrating love and sharing it. Love is pretty much my favorite thing. Because, well, God is totally my favorite thing.
Beloved, let us love one another, because love is of God; everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God. Whoever is without love does not know God, for God is love. In this way the love of God was revealed to us: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might have life through him. In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as expiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also must love one another. No one has ever seen God. Yet, if we love one another, God remains in us, and his love is brought to perfection in us. – 1 John 4:8-12
Love is God. The union of Love is the force of the holy. Popes write and teach all about it, saints marvel in it, lovers dwell in it. It is the duty of all the Christians to share it. When we love others, we help them to get to know God.
I hope that my ministry is all about love. I hope that I provide a loving presence to all who I meet. I pray that all people will really know the power of the greatness of God love- Agape Love– and be made more whole. I hope I help others understand what that means.
One of my students randomly approached me recently and asked me to tell him three of my main religious beliefs. It was an really profound and interesting question. I believe so many things so I didn’t really know what to say. The first thing I said, though, is that I believe God is love and when we experience love, we experience God. Love really is the foundation of my faith.
The challenge is that love is really hard work. Living the Gospel means we love everyone, no matter what. It means we are willing to care for those who seem most broken, dirty, smelly and diseased. We end up putting our lives on the line, all for the love of God and neighbor.
As Dorothy Day showed us, a life of love means we join others in soup lines and joyfully break bread with the hurting, trusting in the healing power of union. As we share, care, create and renew the face of the earth, we build the Kingdom of God.
Little by little, Love changes the world. The good news is that the changing is God’s work- we just cooperate with God’s ways, by sharing the love we have known. It’s pretty awesome to give what we have been blessed with, a lot of Divine Love. Have fun celebrating Love today! God loves you and so do I! Happy St. Valentine’s Day! Love, Julia
When I pray about the fullness of the kingdom of God, I visualize diverse people of every type gathering around huge open tables, communing by sacred bread, wine and laughter and uniting together in Love in their actions of justice. The classic images of diversity come to mind for me quite quickly: different races, cultures, languages, and ages in particular.
I suspect, though, that for God the diversity that is needed is deeper than the visual differences. We need everyone, no matter who they are, to feel free to sit at our tables with us.
It’s beautiful when people who look different gather together and unite. But, what about when people think and believe differently?
Certainly, there’s much tension and confusion when people just completely disagree about principles and values. We don’t have to look too far into any political news to recognize how diversity can be damaging or even disastrous. Personally, the more I grow in understanding of who I am and what I believe, the more challenging it can become to relate to people whose lifestyles and values are completely different than mine. When I admit this, I become embarrassed. Isn’t a point of Christianity to witness to what’s different? When did I only want to hang out with people like me? (Can you believe that in some circles I’m actually pretty normal? Ha!)
My life of Christian service and witness causes me to encounter people who are completely outside of my norm and bubbles, as it should. It’s not a surprise to me that many- if not most- people live their lives without any experience of real Christian church and base their morality on what feels right and good. Sometimes when people behave in ways that I am strongly morally opposed to I feel like all can do is become awkward. Likewise, friendship can feel nearly impossible when a person boldly tells me that he or she don’t want to believe in God nor does he or she like Christianity or religion at all. Sometimes diversity can feel insulting. Sometimes I want to pull my hair out in the struggle.
Basically, I tend to prefer that my friends believe the same things as me. It’s easier and supporting. Or, is it?
I don’t want to be judgmental. I try to love and listen when I am hanging out with people who spend their time and money on the things that I try to preach against. Although I feel a sense of confidence in my faith and my opinions are quite strong, the real challenge is to remain open-minded and allow for my own conversion in the face of challenging diversity. I try not to respond with criticism and instead only offer my opinions when asked. I believe my loving presence is valuable, yet sometimes diversity can be so frustrating. I bite my tongue so much it bleeds and pound my head against the wall so much that it bruises.
When God made us all different, I wonder how we were to live with it. Beating my head up against a wall and pulling out my hair is probably not what God had in mind. I believe that we are called to lovingly accept all people but not all behavior. I believe we’re to witness to the counter-cultural Gospel way through love and service.
I believe it’s all about openness. As I serve with an open heart, I must keep an open mind. As I live outside of my comfort zone and get stretched into weird shapes, I must remain grounded in Christ. Grounded in Christ and open to all, the strangest situations can bring me closer to Him. I hope and pray that as I live in the openness of God’s love and diversity, I come to know the Truth that shall set me free from all that head-banging and social awkwardness.
As I fumble through this, I remain open. As I open, I gain awareness. It’s a blessing that God can grace me with wisdom and guidance. After all, it’s a gift that there’s really no one else just like me. And, it’s a comfort that my struggles and questions are sort of ancient stuff:
The LORD appeared to Solomon in a dream at night. God said, “Ask something of me and I will give it to you.” Solomon answered: “O LORD, my God, you have made me, your servant, king to succeed my father David; but I am a mere youth, not knowing at all how to act. I serve you in the midst of the people whom you have chosen, a people so vast that it cannot be numbered or counted. Give your servant, therefore, an understanding heart to judge your people and to distinguish right from wrong. For who is able to govern this vast people of yours?”
The LORD was pleased that Solomon made this request. So God said to him: “Because you have asked for this— not for a long life for yourself, nor for riches, nor for the life of your enemies, but for understanding so that you may know what is right— I do as you requested. I give you a heart so wise and understanding that there has never been anyone like you up to now, and after you there will come no one to equal you.” –1 Kgs 3:5, 7-12s
You’ve probably heard the saying: “Live simply so others may simply live.” Different sources credit the phrase to different wise people, like St. Francis of Assisi and Mother Theresa. Either way, it’s a good mantra and the saying totally carries weight.
Lately a new, yet similar saying has been rattling around in my consciousness: “Live simply so communities can simply survive.” It’s not as poetic but I think it’s just as true and powerful. Plus, I made it up (I think) so that adds to its awesomeness. Just kidding!
Anyway, in my recent summer adventures I have been encountering this simplicity truth in a variety of ways. It’s not new stuff to me; I think about it lot. The circumstances of life, however, just really seem to rub my face in my convictions sometimes.
Last week while I was working with the Peacebuilders Initiative I was blessed to accompany a group of teens on their ministry site visits to the White Rose Catholic Worker here in Chicago. My friends at the White Rose totally seem like ordinary Christians to me. They dumpster dive, grow and preserve their food, give things away freely, advocate for justice, pray a lot, share everything (including their home with strangers) and compost and recycle all their waste. Yet, the teens kept talking about this way of life as foreign to them. It was a reminder to me how my preferred way of life (service combined with sustainability mixed into activism, grounded in good Catholic prayer) is actually quite radical.
Sometimes I forget how my vocation and passions have made me into a counter-cultural creature. The thing is though, my consciousness doesn’t really make it into an option for me, but a necessity. There’s a fire in my belly that burns me right into action. I live the way I do- and am always seeking to increase my sustainability and simplicity- because it seems to me to be the way we need to live.
When the Peacebuilders and I visited my Catholic Worker friends last week, their community did a really terrific job of organizing programming and hands-on actions in order to help the teens gain an foundational understanding about why people choose to live simply as they do.
One day we watched this video together and discussed how environmentalism is intertwined with Gospel living:
The video left me feeling embarrassed for a variety of reasons. It feels overwhelmingly inevitable that I cooperate with the systemic injustices related to consumerism. I don’t mean to, I don’t want to. I just seems to happen, I’m sorry. (I feel like a whiner as I confess this sin, blah!)
But then, I know about alternatives to cooperating with the mainstream. And I try to choose them as much as possible. Some of the most basic ways to live simply have to do with food.
My friends at the Catholic Worker House took our Peacebuilder group to their organic farm for some good-old-fashioned labor last week and I was overjoyed (seriously!) to be placing composted manure around plants and weeding veggies. I was also amazed while I heard the teens say that they had never done anything like it before. Again, I was reminded that it is sort of a radical thing to grow one’s own food now days.
Then, on Tuesday of this week I was was again doing labor and bonding with Earth. I helped my sister box up veggies from her farm for her CSA business. As we weeded, harvested, packaged and delivered foods to people in her community I couldn’t help but think the whole thing felt sort of silly- we were working so hard to feed people who also had good land to grow food. My sister echoed my thoughts as we drove around (and wasted fuel) and made deliveries. She said she’d welcome competition and wishes that CSAs were more ordinary, as it is necessary for us to develop community through local economies. In the same way, I prefer that we’d revert to a culture of neighbors creating hand-made crafts and food for each other. The earth seems to be begging for it.
Let’s do it, Christians. Let’s free ourselves from bills and material abundance, and live simply so that we are closer to the earth and our neighbors. Let’s build community by sharing in the responsibility of sustainability. Let’s live life to the fullest and love one another. The bible tells us to, plus our brothers and sisters far and near need us to help build their communities, not harm them.
As my sister, the farmer, said here, eating food (like all simple actions) is something that connects as a community, no matter where live. So, let’s connect by living simply. God help us, Amen.